Blackout Books

When I was a librarian, we had a number of parents that would request one-on-one tutoring for their child who was struggling with reading for one reason or another. Our Children’s Librarian happily created space to do this in her weekly schedule. One of the most memorable requests during this time was made by a mother who had recently moved to our rural community with her family. As was the case of most families we evaluated for tutoring, she told the Children’s Librarian that her son was struggling with reading and was significantly behind his classmates in this area. What was not typical was that the young man in question wanted to know if the reason he couldn’t read was because he was Black.

I have been thinking about this young man a lot today. I think about him, and my foster daughter, and so many other children and teens whose stories have intersected with mine. I remember the hours invested to ensure that there was better representation for these children and their families on our community’s library shelves.

Yesterday I learned that the county judge and commissioners that oversee my former library had decided to capitulate to the wave of Critical Race Theory fear sweeping across conservative white America. Just before Christmas, the library system was closed so that the entire children’s and youth collections could be “evaluated” against Texas Rep. Matt Krause’s list of 850 books that discuss race, gender identity, human sexuality, and “…titles that ‘might make (white, heteronormative) students feel discomfort’” (Migdon). (I emphasize “white, heteronormative” students because in my entire career as a public librarian, no one ever paid much attention to the comfort or discomfort of BIPOC or queer students.) To further ensure a posture of compliance with Krause’s book inquiry, the library system’s eBook service was suspended indefinitely, and, at the time of this writing, the county judge and commissioners are appointing a review board that will monitor library content on an ongoing basis.

If this situation above did not already sound like the synopsis for a dystopian nightmare, it should be noted that Krause, who is a candidate for state attorney general, intended (at least on paper) that his list be utilized to censor content in Texas public schools, not public libraries. Unfortunately, all fear needs is a label and the right conduit to evolve into violence. A list of 850 books, primarily authored by BIPOC, women, and queer writers, and labeled as “Critical Race Theory” and/or “Social and Emotional Learning” provide more than enough targets for scared white conservatives to aim at.

On the bookshelf in my office, I keep a copy of “The Slave Bible,” a severely truncated version of the Judeo-Christian Protestant “Holy Bible,” published in 1807 for the purpose of evangelizing/further colonizing enslaved Africans living in the British West-India Islands and surrounding colonies. The highly censured editing of the volume ensured that all messages of liberation were wiped out of the biblical narrative. In his introduction to the volume, Joseph Lumpkin writes, “The re-education, mental manipulation, or mind-control of a person is best accomplished by removing all support systems of their past and submitting new ones, more in line with the desired goals” (xxii). Lumpkin goes on to quote Carter G. Woodson’s 1933 work, “The Mis-Education of the Negro,” in which Woodson observes, “When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions… He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it” (xxiii).

White America is terrified that access to diverse and equitable reading material and education will flip the national narrative of white exceptionalism. Attempting to blackout non-colonial histories, cultural experiences, and stories that elevate underserved communities is a last-ditch effort to maintain the boundaries of BIPOC thinking that are perceived as a threat to white power.

By Naphtali Renshaw

References

Kingkade, Tyler and Mike Hixenbaugh. “Parents protesting ‘critical race theory’ identify another target: Mental health programs.” 15 November 2021. NBCNews.com. 7 January 2022. <https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/parents-protesting-critical-race-theory-identify-new-target-mental-hea-rcna4991?fbclid=IwAR08uCb-IWv3aqRoyZ4OTc3BLpvyPZcCrC7HHeDJpdWA3VJjONQkCvxMCIw&gt;.

Lumpkin, Joseph. The Negro Bible — The Slave Bible: Select Parts of the Holy Bible, Selected for the use of the Negro Slaves, in the British West-India Islands. Blountsville: Fifth Estate Publishers, 2019. Paperback.

Migdon, Brooke. “Texas public library closes as librarians search for ‘objectionable’ content.” 22 December 2921. TheHill.com. 05 January 2022. <https://thehill.com/changing-america/respect/diversity-inclusion/586963-texas-public-library-closes-as-librarians-search?amp&fbclid=IwAR3sAvL7kplccWbbpCR4-wgZ-6zkrmSlrnMw9ZsNoS6VXqY4lF_E6dK_0LU&gt;.

3 thoughts on “Blackout Books

  1. Thanks for this piece, Naphtali. Please update us on the situation and what alternatives there might be for continuing to offer a more holistic history.

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    1. Thank you for responding Carl. As of today, this is some of what I know of this particular situation:
      –LGBTQIA+ books have been segregated and there is a push for many BIPOC, non-Eurocentric cultural, and non-Christian religious materials to be removed.
      –The eBook system utilized by elderly, disabled, and shut in patrons has been suspended.
      –The librarians have not been allowed to purchase or process materials since October, even with privately donated funds.
      –A commissioner threatened an elderly, disabled patron who complained about loss of access to the eBook system with the closure of the libraries.
      –The librarians have been scripted and are under a gag order from deviating from the script. The scripts contain false information that disparage library employees.
      –One librarian has been fired for whistleblowing on private social media.
      –Librarians are barred from attending public meetings of the newly appointed (not elected) Library Advisory Board (censorship committee).
      –Library employees are not allowed to follow current library policies while the Committee takes steps to change the policies to allow censorship.
      –Contact information for committee members has been removed from the country website.
      –The original complaints against library materials were made by members of a conservative bible study group.

      Throughout history, the oppressor/trauma perpetrator dominates, controls, and writes the narrative. When the perpetrator feels like they are losing control, they double down on their efforts. I believe that this is what is happening right now. Fear is a powerful motivator to commit violence. We must tell the truth. We must be “voices of clarity.” We cannot, must not allow book burning in any form, whether it be via “silent censorship,” bullying mandate, or fire and ashes. “Where hate is loud,” we must have the audacity to own and proclaim the stories of those with “their backs against the wall” whenever and wherever there is silence. Wherever and whenever stories are silenced, so is our humanity, and the tapestry of our humanity is woven together.

      If you have made it this far, thank you for listening to my soapbox speech.

      Liked by 1 person

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